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A Little Advice by Chris Semansky
published in Volume 4, Issue 1 on September 4th, 1997

First thing you've got to do is be real. That's what they like more than anything. Let's face it, women can afford to be a hell of a lot more choosy than us. In a lifetime the average female's got what . . . three, four hundred eggs tops? And they want the best available shot at farming them buggers, introducing them to the spunkiest little seed. Women's entire bodies are into this hi-frequency fit, screaming at them to choose well and to choose right. Believe me, most of the time they take one look at you and can tell within five minutes whether you've got the steps it takes. Most of the time.Take Valentina. She's in admin, likes her men smart. Not necessarily MENSA smart, but quick, you know, clever, witty. Men who'll make a little effort. When I first started trying with her she was like, you've got to be kidding, what do you think I am, some kind of pool hall floozette? Some Taco Bell fry girl juicing for a raise? Some kid? This is Valentina Tramontana, buster, and I rank. You want? You've got to come and get, and don't be sloppy about it either. The senior prom this is not. So I back off, chalk up the encounter to a minor miscalculation -- it happens sometimes -- which, with proper attention, can be repaired.

Next time I see her's in the cafeteria. She's loading up on a deep dish lunch salad and lingering over the garlic-flavored croutons when I catch her looking my way. Okay, glancing my way, her baby blues shifting quickly back to the broccoli florets then to the sneeze guard. That's all I need, I think, just enough reason to stay in the hunt. I re-focus on my hardback, The Moral Animal, nodding ever so slightly to myself, showing, not telling her, that I've got the mental resources it takes. When she passes I look up just long enough to give her that pinched far-away smile. I am, after all, deep in thought.

Next day I borrow my cousin's kid, stick the little papoose in a handwoven Guatemalan sack on my back and mill around my desk, opening drawers, shuffling papers, smacking myself on the forehead in a show of frustration over some lost item or other. Before long there's a crowd to rival any presidential greeting line. Whether twenty-two or fifty, they come, to pet, to google-eye, to ooh and aahh, do the cutsie-tootsie around the kid. "What's his name? Aw, look at hid liddu chin. Can I howd him, just a liddu bit? He looks just like you. I didn't know you were married."

"Well, I'm not. Actually, I'm thinking of a single-parent adoption and got the kid on a special two-hour lease."

"Oh, you're funny too."

There's nothing like displaying a little male parental investment possibility around the tribe to see what crops up. Everyone I think will bite, bites. Except Val. She plays it cool, keeping her eyes on the monitor, her long fingers pecking away. Doesn't matter. Long as you pile up the signals, in time something will break. You just have to be there for it. Last thing I do before leaving that day is send her an e-mail apologizing for the way I acted last week and pledging to be a respectful colleague from here on out. "I'm smitten, I said, not stupid."

The way I got it figured women want a guy who shows at least a promise of stability. A little status doesn't hurt either, but you can finagle that. Good looks aren't that important. What you've absolutely got to know, get down pat, though, is the code. Otherwise you're just dealing with unorganized reactive intuition, and you may as well be pissing in the wind.

Take the competition. Now conventional wisdom might hold that everything else being equal women will go for the joe who emerges from the pack, the one who distinguishes himself from the rest. They may not know it but their cells are mumbling to them that this is the guy to invest in, the one to get a little gamete action going with. They don't put it in those words, exactly. Hell, they might not even want anything long-term with Mr. Alpha Male, might consciously think of him only as a welcome substitute for afternoon aerobics. But their genes, their genes are humming a different tune.

Problem is, women today have evolved to such a point that they can think one move ahead of most men. Some of them are so complex that they ignore the alpha altogether and go for the little weeny who can recite Wordsworth by heart, or who can tell you the best time of year to plant plum tomatoes. How are we supposed to deal with that?

To outmaneuver today's nineties' woman you've got to pay attention to how, not what, you think. I mean if male minds are more or less an account of the adaptive behavior of women through history, and their minds a register of ours, it pays to know what's up in your own head as well as theirs, right? It only makes sense.

Say you got a ripe one. She knows it and you know it. You're both doing the eye-to-eye tango across the office, only thing is when you try to shoot the gap she closes down, feigns myopia or something, turns frosty and dull. What do you do, turn off the juice and wait for number two? Not unless your cajones have gone high and tight. Face it, compared to the payoff she's after, the energy we put into springing Johnny Appleseed amounts to no more than a slow wink on a windy day.

Next time I see Val it's obvious she's soaked up some of my moves. She smiles coyly when she passes my desk and I give her this contemplative half-smile in return. It's not much but it shows that I'm open, that there's a strong chance I'm still interested. An hour later she shoots me an in-house message over the network: "Coffee a fter work?" I nod without even looking up.

When she suggests dinner instead, I know I've got her cold. It's just a matter of restraint, I tell myself, of letting her spin it out. She shows up at Tefelio's in a low-cut black number that'd stop the Pope in the middle of Easter Mass. I give her a polite hello and tell her how I've decided to take up Buddhism and renounce all my earthly desires.

"Uh-huh," she says. "So what you're saying is that I should've gone for the ankle-length brown number?"

"Two glasses of your best Chardonnay," I tell the waiter.

Two bottles and a few good steaks later we're playing footsies a go-go under the table. At her place we do things I haven't even heard about in locker rooms. I'm talking contact-sport city. After our love tussle and the requisite string of endearments that follows we take a long walk along the beach. But something happens. She clams up. Doesn't say a thing for close to an hour. I'm thinking okay, she's probably waiting for me to make some grand pronouncement or mutter something about my overwhelming desire for her, how I've never met anyone as intriguing or lovely or smart or anyone with teeth as clean and white as hers. Thing is, once you do that, they only expect more. That's how it works.

I resist.

At her door she hands me my sweater and gives me this eentsy little peck on the cheek, whispering something I don't catch.

"I said I only wish it were better," she repeats.

"Oh, it was wonderful," I say. "Incredible. I mean what we did in that bed, hmmmm hmmm. If we did that stuff in public they'd scratch synchronized swimming from the olympic menu and stick our performance in there instead. Course, they'd have to come up with a name for it first."

"I meant for me," she says, lowering her head.

"For you?" I repeat to myself, trying to gauge her drift.

"Oh, it was okay," she says. "But you know, I just thought that after the wait and . . . well, never mind. Maybe I just expect too much."

I stand there a little stunned, trying to process this latest turn, calculate my response. But the little acreage I thought I had won all of a sudden turns muddy and I'm flapping around in the puddle, grasping for an arm to pull me out. I feel like I did when I was sixteen and Mary Ann Kuchinsky told me Stevie Emmons called her a slut and what was I going to do about it. I walked right up to that punk and cold-cocked him on the ear, and when he turned around I rammed my
elbow half-way down his throat before he could blink, then gut-punched him till he fell on the ground puking. Mary Ann sat on her porch watching the whole thing. As I stood over Stevie, kicking him in the ass while he wretched, Mary Ann got up and walked in the house. Before she slammed the door she yelled to me, "You stupid fuck, that's not what I meant!" I've spent the better part of my adult years learning just what it is they do mean, but for some reason here I am in the doorway of this woman's apartment, slopping around in the mud of dumb wondering, back to square one.

Though we see each other every day at the office, we exchange nothing but polite hellos. This continues for a week, during which time I theorize that she is indeed juicing me for show of a little more commitment. I hang on for another week. Still, nothing. Finally, I can't take it anymore, so I ask her out. She begs off, claims relatives are visiting. I try again a few day later, and this time she turns me down cold, says it was fun and all but why can't we just be friends?

I'm thinking, friends? She wants to be friends? We have what I consider to be probably one of the most intense sexual encounters of my adult career and she want to be friends? Well sure, honey, I'd just love to sip cappuccino with you under an umbrella and talk about our favorite movies. Maybe we could even compare recipes for eggplant ratatouille. Granted, I've been axed a few times before, so logically I should've backed off, cut my losses and got on with the day. I've been there before. It's no big fizz. You just chalk it up to bad judgement on her part. Could be she is the Puccini-Wordsworth type. Who knows?

I don't back off. I go after her like some kind of epileptic pit bull, executing every move I know. One afternoon I bring the little kid back in, only this time I also bring in his baby sister. Both of them cute as buttons. Nothing from Val, not even a glance. Next I try the lonely guy routine. I buy a German Shepard, take it for walks by her apartment when I know she's home. Zip. I try sick guy, stumble in the office coughing, clothes rumpled, sleepless look of imminent death
on my face. Nada. I send her flowers, chocolate truffles, a gift certificate for three month's worth of premium unleaded gasoline and car washes at Phil's Scrub & Pump, but she only sends them back. So I start hitting on Lily, the mall-haired brunette who sits across from Val, hanging around her desk, bringing her coffee and bagels in the morning, with three separate tubs of flavored cream cheese, which I place in a little pyramid on top of her monitor so Val can see how interest in my new friend extends to the cutest details. But Val remains calm, regards me as she would an empty office chair.

Then one afternoon as I'm tearing out my nails over what to try next she wanders by and casually asks me if I know anything about replacing windows. A branch fell from a tree in her yard and took out a few panes of glass and all the repairmen she called are booked for weeks. It's supposed to storm again soon and she's nervous about the plank of wood she's got over it leaking.

"Windows," I say, "are my specialty."

I caulk, I point, I replace. Windows look good as new. She thanks me with an unexpected kiss and before long we're on the floor for the belated encore I've been dreaming about. We both call in sick the next day and spend it in bed testing the limits of our desire, arranging our bodies in ways that redefine what it means to sin. I forget myself for what seems like months, pledge to be Val's one and only for as long as she'll have me. To my unending surprise, she returns the sentiment and before I know it we're in front of the judge making it stick.

The thing about decks is you've got to keep after them. A little waterproofing, a little pest control, a new coat of varnish now and then. You either keep your eye on them or they'll warp on you, turn into nothing but rows of waterlogged planks. That's what happened to Val's when she didn't take care of it. I've replaced almost half the boards in that deck so far and screwed down another twenty or so. It took me a few weeks but I'm finished now, and tonight we're having Bob and Sally Peterson over for a barbecue. Bob's been thinking about building a deck and I'm sure he's going to ask me about ours. There's not that much to it I'll tell him, you just have to keep your eye on it is all. Waterproofing's the big thing, though. In this part of the country the weather changes so fast, you have to stay one step ahead. That'd be my advice, anyway.

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